I just wrote this up for a friend, so I might as well post it here while I’m at it. Having first tried this dish at one of my Roman Cooking Workshops, this has since become my favorite way to cook barley.
“Wash and crush barley which has been soaking since the previous day. Put on the fire. When it boils add sufficient oil, a small bouquet of dill, dry onion, savory, and leg of pork. Let all this cook with the barley for flavor. Add fresh coriander and salt pounded together, and bring to the boil. When it has boiled well remove the bouquet and transfer the barley to another saucepan, taking care that it does not stick to the pan and burn. Cream well, and strain into a pan over the leg of pork so that it is well covered. Pound pepper, lovage, a little dried pennyroyal, cumin, and dried seseli. Moisten with honey, vinegar, defrutum, and liquamen, and pour into the pan over the leg pork. Cook over a slow fire.” (Apicius IV, IV, 1)
But I did make some changed. For one, no matter how much I love that a leg of pork is an incidental ingredient in this barley recipe, I just don’t have those lying around. I do, however, have a steady supply in my freezer of cubes of leftover roasted pork shoulder (it’s a thing – my mother likes this particular roast, but they suck at eating leftovers).
Also, gruel just sounds like prison food, and I’ve yet to find a congee I like. So I made it with a slow addition of liquid so that it was tender and pleasing but not drippy.
Roman Barley Risotto
Soak barley overnight.
In a nonstick pan, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and sautee some onions and minced stems of parsley and cilantro (I got that trip from the DVD extras of Bend It Like Beckham).
Heat up some stock
When the onion is translucent, drain the barley and add it to the pan. Add some stock.
Bind together a bundle of fresh dill, drop it into the pan and sprinkle in some dried onion flakes, savoury (and/or thyme), and as much roast pork leftovers as looks tasty.
Let cook until the stock has been absorbed, and then add more stock.
Mince cilantro leaves and stir them together with 3/4 teaspoon salt (more or less – this dish can take a lot of salt), crushing and juicing the leaves. I found that the dish could absorb quite a lot of cilantro, so go wild. If you don’t like cilantro, substitute parsley – but the addition of green was a great choice.
Season the barley with the salt and cilantro, stir, taste. How’s the salt level? How’s the texture? Does it need to cook more? Feel free to have another addition of stock. Also, how’s the dill flavor? I might have been tempted to mince in some of the dill, too. If it’s strong enough, go ahead and discard the dill. Note the ingredient seseli in the original recipe – could totally be referring to dill fronds, carrot fronds, parsley, anise, caraway, or even fennel)
Grind cumin and black pepper and add to taste. I was generous with the pepper but more moderate with the cumin, so it would be a background note.
If you don’t have lovage, you can substitute celery or margoram (or skip).
And then once the barley is fully cooked and creamy, you’re finishing by mixing in honey, red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, maneschewitz wine (defrutum is young wine that has been boiled down to only 1/3 the volume of the original), and liquamen/fish sauce.